Houston, we have a problem.
This tagline from the movie “Apollo 13” is based on some of the most famous words ever uttered in the history of space travel: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” These five words, first spoken by Jack Swigert and then by Jim Lovell, could have signaled NASA’s worst disaster ever. Fortunately, there was a happy ending to the flight of Apollo 13.
We have a problem. … Maybe you’ve said that recently. An unexpected crisis has come your way in life. Maybe your spouse has said he wants out of the marriage. Maybe your child has told you she doesn’t want to be a Christian. Maybe you’ve found out that you have a serious health issue. Whatever it may be, you know it’s something beyond your ability to fix.
When we have a crisis, when we’re in trouble, it isn’t Houston we call out to – it’s our heavenly Father. That is what Israel did when their city lay in ruins. The Temple had been rebuilt under Ezra, but the great walls of Jerusalem that once protected the city were lying in burned-out rubble. Enter Nehemiah, who would bring the solution to the problem.
Nehemiah wasn’t a builder, by the way. He wasn’t an architect. He was a cupbearer to the king of Persia, which meant that he tasted the king’s food before the king ate it and drank the king’s wine before the king drank it. It was actually a great job, because he lived in the king’s palace, with close proximity to him. Nehemiah may have been the second-most powerful man in the entire kingdom.
One day some of Nehemiah’s fellow Jewish brothers came to visit him, and he asked how things were going back in Jerusalem.
They said, in effect, “Do you really want to know? Things are bad.”
I think sometimes we don’t want to know what’s going on somewhere else, especially if it’s bad news. We don’t want to hear about that crisis over there. We don’t want to hear about this problem over here. I think we’re afraid that information may bring obligation. It’s true. It will. But we’re all in this together. If some Christians are suffering, we care about that. Because the Bible says that when one suffers, we all suffer.
Nehemiah cared when he heard this news from his Jewish brothers. Although it was a day like any other day for Nehemiah in the court of the king, it was a day that would change his life.
In the same way, it was an ordinary day when David went out watching his flock, but that was the day the prophet showed up and anointed him as king of Israel. It was a day like any other day when Moses was shepherding his sheep, but then he noticed a bush that wouldn’t stop burning, and he heard the voice of God. It was a day like any other day when Peter, James and John were mending their nets after a night of failed fishing, but then Jesus called them to go fishing for people.
When Nehemiah heard about the plight of his fellow Jews, he decided to take action. Some people talk about things; other people do things. Some people are part of the problem; other people are part of the solution. It’s very easy to be a critic. It’s very easy to say, “I don’t like this. I don’t think it’s a good way to do that.” Don’t just stand around and critique. Instead say, “I have an idea. I think we can do this more effectively.”
Nehemiah took action. The walls of the city were in ruin. It all goes back to how Israel had been thrown into captivity. They kept worshiping false gods, so God basically said, “All right. You like false gods? I’ll send you to idol central: Babylon.”
So there they were, captives for 70 years. Nebuchadnezzar ultimately was replaced by his grandson, Belshazzar, who was overthrown. Enter Cyrus and the Medo-Persians. Cyrus let the first wave of captives return, and Ezra the priest rebuilt the temple. But the walls of Jerusalem were still in rubble. A lot of time had passed when the news reached Nehemiah in the court of King Artaxerxes. Then the king allowed Nehemiah to go and do something about it.
The walls of a city were important. Obviously they served as a means of protection, but they were more than that. They were a symbol. The gates of the wall is where a city’s leadership would meet and make decisions. Walls mattered.
Walls matter in our lives as well. The walls of faithfulness protect our marriages. The walls of marriage protect the family. And the walls of the family protect the nation. I think you could take almost every social ill in America today and trace it directly back to the breakdown of the family. Look at the rise in crime. Look at out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Look at the drug epidemic, the gang issue and so many of the other problems in our culture today. So often it goes back to a broken home, a divorced home, and more specifically, the lack of a father. It’s been said that a family can survive without a nation, but a nation cannot survive without the family. America needs the family.
How did the people of Israel rebuild the walls? Answer: one brick at a time. How do we rebuild our country? Answer: one home at a time and one family at a time. It starts in your home, and it starts in mine.
When Nehemiah heard the news about the broken-down walls of Jerusalem, the Bible says that he wept. But after his weeping came working. You cannot lighten the load in someone else’s life until you first feel the pressure in your own. Nehemiah took action, and he showed us how to take action.
If we learn nothing else from Nehemiah, we learn this: Whenever you face walls in your life that are falling down, the first place to go is to God in prayer. Ask him for help, because God is bigger than your problem.
Greg Laurie is an American author and pastor who serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, Harvest Church at Kumulani in Kapalua, Hawaii, and Harvest Orange County in Irvine, California.